Faster, cheaper, gone

Slate has an excellent article today about "massclusivity," the practice of selling designer clothes cheaply but in such limited qualities that only the seriously aggressive shopaholics will be able to buy them. H&M, which just opened its first San Francisco store to huge crowds, is the current queen of massclusivity.

According to the article, H&M marketing director Jorgen Andersson told Fortune that the company's recent collaboration with Stella McCartney (which sold out within half-an-hour) was "the ultimate in massclusivity," adding, "if we had these designs in the stores for a month, people would get bored."

God forbid people get bored. We're talking people who go to the same clothing store more than once a month. Maybe a little boredom would give them the idea that there's more to life than shopping.

The real problem with "massclusivity," isn't the shopping hysteria it creates or even, as Karl Lagerfeld says, that it's "snobbery created by anti-snobbery." The problem is how it reinforces the idea of disposable clothing, which is, according to retail consulting companies, the hottest fashion trend. "For the most part, the cheap chic consumer is someone who wants a top or outfit to wear two or three times," the director of one of these companies said. Quality and durability are not issues here; it's rare that people will wear the clothing long enough to wear it out.

Sweatshops don't seem to bother people either. Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, points out that the grim toll of "disposable clothing" is being borne by workers all over the world. Workers are constantly expected to fill big orders without being paid overtime, a problem that predates cheap chic but one that is growing as more retailers follow that model, Kernaghan told the San Francisco Chronicle. "As the system gets faster and faster, it gets more brutal."

A while ago, when I was still impressed by H&M, I an article about their labor practices. They weren't as bad as I suspected, but neither were they anything to be proud of. For now, I think I'll skip the opening of the new H&M. After all, the Stella McCarthy collection is all gone, and I would just hate to be bored.
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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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